The Act applies to all goods and services of any kind other than for commercial purposes provided by any sector – private, public or cooperative. It also covers public utility services.
Any ultimate consumer or registered association of consumers, State and Central Government can file a complaint under the Act. Complaint can be filed either personally or by post. There is no fee for filing a complaint.
The complaint may relate to defect in the goods, deficiency in service, price variation and unfair trade practice.
The Act provides for three tier quasi-judicial machinery at the national, state and district levels which is as under:
The State Government will establish a district forum in each district. Claims for compensation up to Rs 20 lakhs can be filed in the district forum. The district forum may summon and enforce the attendance of any defendant.
It can also examine witnesses on oath, may produce any document and may receive evidence an affidavit. Appeals against the order of district forum can be filed before the State Commission within thirty days.
The State commission will hear appeals against the orders of the district forum. Claims for compensation in excess of Rs. 20 lakhs but not more than 100 lakhs can he be directly filed with the State Commission. Appeals against the orders of State Commission can be filed within thirty days before the National Commission.
The National Disputes Redressal Commission is working at the centre. Claims for compensation for more than Rs 100 lakhs can be filed before the National Commission. National commission has the right to dispose of appeals against the orders of the State Commission.
These redressal bodies are required to decide the case within three months of notice to opposite party where complaint does not require any analysis or testing of the commodity and within five months in other cases.
Appeal against the orders of the National Commission can be filed before the Supreme Court within thirty days. The redressal bodies may pass orders for removal of defects from the goods, replacement of goods, refund of the price and award of compensation for the loss or injury suffered.
The Consumer Protection Act has proved very helpful to consumers. But the authorities suffer from shortage of funds and take a long time in deciding the complaints.
Consumer associations need legal aid measures, and research and training support to take advantage of the legal rights granted under the Act. Tendency to lodge false claims need to be curbed to prevent waste of time and energy.
District forums should be made more active. They may be granted powers to pass ad-interim (stay) orders. Liability for unsafe goods and misleading advertisement should be increased.
Services provided by statutory bodies without consideration should be brought under the purview of the Act. Consumer associations should help and educate consumers in protecting their rights.
Rights of consumers and remedies available to them should be given wide publicity. A Utility Rate Commission may be set up to cover public utilities and check pollution.
The authorities established under the Consumer Protection Act should be provided necessary funds and other facilities so that they can dispose of the complaints more speedily.
Accumulation of complaints and delay in their redressal discourage and frustrate consumers. More and more consumer associations should be established to ensure more honest, efficient and responsible behaviour on the part of businessmen.
Liability of producers for spurious products and misleading advertisements should be made deterrent.
The Government has to play a greater role in protecting the interests of consumers. Laws should be modified to keep pace with socio economic changes and in the light of practical experience. The Government should ensure that the enacted laws are strictly in forced.